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Polytheism in the Bible

Many gods aren't just in Greek or Roman legends. The Bible has polytheism as well.The first of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). (There are two very different sets of Ten Commandments in Exodus, but let’s ignore that for now.)

Have you ever thought much about the wording of this commandment? Why doesn’t it say that Jehovah is the only god? It’s because this section of the Bible was written in the early days of the Israelite religion (roughly 10th century BCE) when it was still polytheistic. The next commandment notes, “I, Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God”—jealous because there were indeed other viable options, and Jehovah insisted on a commitment.

Jewish Henotheism

Let’s use the proper term for this, henotheism. Polytheists acknowledge many gods and worship many gods; henotheists acknowledge many gods but worship only one. In this view, different gods ruled different territories just as kings did, and tribes owed allegiance to whichever god protected them.

I’ve gotten a lot of insight into Old Testament henotheism from Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God. Some of what follows comes from chapter 4 of that book.

The Song of Moses (Deut. 32) is considered to be some of the oldest material in the Bible—dating to the mid-13th c. BCE. We have several somewhat-inconsistent copies, the oldest being from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

When Elyon divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam,
he established the borders of the nations according to the number of the sons of the gods.
Yahweh’s portion was his people, [Israel] his allotted inheritance. (Deut. 32:8–9)

Here we see Elyon, the head of the divine pantheon, dividing humankind among his children, giving each his inheritance. The idea of a divine pantheon with a chief deity, his consort, and their children (the council of the gods) was widespread through the Ancient Near East. Elyon (short for El Elyon) is the chief god, not just in Jewish writings but in Canaanite literature. The passage concludes with Yahweh getting Israel as his inheritance.

We learn more about terms like “sons of the gods” by widening our focus to consider Ugaritic (Canaanite) texts. Ugarit was a Canaanite city destroyed along with much of the Ancient Near East during the Bronze Age Collapse in roughly 1200 BCE, a period of widespread chaos from which Israelite civilization seems to have grown.

The Ugaritic texts state that El and his consort Asherah had 70 sons, which may be the origin of the 70 nations (or 72) that came from Noah’s descendants listed in Genesis 10.

The Old Testament is full of clues to the existence of multiple gods. Genesis is a good place to start.

Then [Elohim] said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

We also see plural gods when Jehovah warns them that man mustn’t eat the tree of life (Gen. 3:22) and that they must confuse mankind’s languages lest their projects, like the Tower of Babel, succeed (Gen. 11:7).

A common Christian spin is either to say that the “us” is the Trinity or that it is a heavenly assembly of angels. But can we imagine that the original audience for Genesis would understand the Trinity? And why imagine an angelic assembly when the polytheistic interpretation of Genesis simply growing out of preceding Canaanite culture is available and plausible?

Psalms is another old book that has fossilized the earliest forms of Judaism. We see the assembly of the gods mentioned several times.

[Elohim] stands in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods he renders judgment (Ps. 82:1).

For who in the skies can compare to [Jehovah]? Who is like [Jehovah] among the [sons of God], a God who is honored [in the great assembly of the holy ones], and more awesome than all who surround him? (Ps. 89:6–7)

And many more verses celebrate Jehovah while acknowledging the existence of others.

For [Jehovah] is the great God, and the great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3).

All the gods bow down before [Jehovah] (Ps. 97:7).

I know [Jehovah] is great, and our Lord is superior to all gods. (Ps. 135:5)

In a recent post, we’ve recently seen where Yahweh loses a fight with the Moabite god Chemosh (2 Kings 3:27).

Migration to Monotheism

We find one indication of the move from henotheism to monotheism in later versions of the Song of Moses (above). The phrase “sons of the gods” becomes “angels” in the Septuagint (3rd century BCE) and “sons of Israel” in the Masoretic text (7th through 10th centuries CE).

Let’s consider books composed later than Genesis or Psalms.

Deuteronomy was written after the conquest of Israel and before the conquest of Judah, in the 7th century BCE. The philosophy has moved from henotheism to monolatry. Like henotheism, many gods are accepted and only one is worshipped, but now worship of other gods is forbidden.

Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you (Deut. 6:14)

But you must not turn away from all the commandments I am giving you today, to either the right or left, nor pursue other gods and worship them (Deut. 28:14–15).

Second Isaiah was written later, near the end of the Babylonian exile. Here we read that the move is complete.

Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me (Isa. 43:10)

The very idea of an idol is lampooned in Isa. 44:9–20. Can a man cook his meal over a fire made from half of the tree he used to carve his idol and imagine that an idol from so unrefined an origin is really a god?

What explains this migration to monotheism? A major factor was the Babylonian exile. How could Yahweh, clearly defined as the most powerful of the assembly of gods, have been defeated by the puny Babylonian god Marduk?

Maybe Yahweh let it happen to teach Israel and Judah a lesson. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Babylon didn’t defeat Yahweh’s people; they were merely a pawn in his grand plan all along.

A decent provision for the poor
is the true test of civilization.
— Samuel Johnson

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • DrewL

    You seem to be hinting at your little fact-finding survey leading to a significant problem but don’t come out and say what you’re getting at. Were you getting at something? Why are you posting this?

    The fact that monotheism “evolved” or “developed” is not even debated among serious scholars, even scholars with faith commitments. Anyone who argues completely consistent theology of any type persists through every page of the Old Testament is probably outside orthodox Christianity, as even the earlier 2-4th century Christian commentators could already recognize this.

    Also, this is a pretty good interpretation of the “other gods” question. Next time, engage this. (In other words theologians have been there and done that)
    http://amzn.com/0830818855

    • trj

      It’s fun to see that you are in fact in agreement with Bob’s synopsis of historical Judaism, and it just bugs the hell out of you.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drewl:

      Why are you posting this?

      If you got nothing out of it, then, for you, that’s the answer.

      The fact that monotheism “evolved” or “developed” is not even debated among serious scholars

      You think I imagine that I uncovered something new?

      Serious scholars aren’t my audience. I suspect that this is completely new to most Christians. That’s who I’m talking to.

      • Stephanie

        On this being “completely new to most Christians,” I wonder why you are so sure of that. I can’t argue, since I don’t know what “most Christians” know or don’t know, but in my experience this is a common thing to talk about in any Christian discussion of the relevant books (for example, even a Bible study at a local parish or a talk not aimed at those with specialized knowledge) and is something that I suspect that most Christians I know who are engaged at all with the Bible beyond just hearing it at church know. Clearly, this is going to vary from place to place — most of the Christians I know are pretty well educated and not at all attached to a literalist reading — but it smacks a bit of the silly idea that most Christians assume that Jesus was born on Dec 25 and would be crushed to find out that’s not so. I suspect this subtext (which may not have been intended) is what Drewl is reacting to.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Stephanie:

          On this being “completely new to most Christians,” I wonder why you are so sure of that.

          I said that I suspected this, so I’m not claiming to be sure. I haven’t seen any surveys of this question within Christian circles.

          it smacks a bit of the silly idea that most Christians assume that Jesus was born on Dec 25 and would be crushed to find out that’s not so.

          Agreed–that most Christians believe that Jesus was born on 12/25 is worth your skepticism. But you’re saying that most Christians know about and accept that who their Creator god was evolved over time?! Wow–I’ll need some convincing.

          That UUs would know about and accept this I would accept easily. That this would be true for fundamentalists would be laughable. As for the middle group, I find it hard to imagine how they could remain in their sect while embracing this knowledge. Your thoughts?

        • Stephanie

          I think it’s pretty obvious that the Bible demonstrates that the idea of monotheism evolved over time. That’s something that people who read the Bible in a non-fundamentalist way (including a huge number of Christians) will generally see, although they won’t all agree upon what it means or the interpretation of a particular section of the Bible in which it can be seen. Like I said, that recognition is something that I’ve seen and talked about in religious settings, as well as in non-sectarian Bible discussions.

          I’m not sure what you mean by “who their Creator god was evolved over time.” If what you mean is that the understanding of who their Creator god was evolved over time, that’s what I mean, and I don’t see that as problematic at all for Christianity, nor have I found that other Christians are bothered by the idea. It is problematic if you insist that the Bible must be read in a certain kind of fundamentalist way, but I don’t think that’s so common in actual practice. Certainly, there are plenty of other problems if one approaches the Bible that way.

          In that it’s true that most Christians in the US probably aren’t all that engaged with the Bible, and that a certain segment who are do approach it in a fundamentalist way, I can’t estimate how many would be bothered or surprised by the notion that the concept of monotheism evolved. But it’s an idea that is reasonably commonplace among the subset of Christians I’m most familiar with.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Stephanie:

          If your point is that many Christians read the Bible and external commentary with an open mind and understand what the Bible actually says (rather than what it’d be nice if it did say), I agree. However, I do think that the historical views of, say, Bart Ehrman (to take one scholar) are not shared by the majority of Christians.

          If what you mean is that the understanding of who their Creator god was evolved over time, that’s what I mean

          I’m not talking about progressive revelation; I’m talking about successive, incompatible understandings. If there is just one god, then a henotheistic or monolatrous view is wrong.

        • Stephanie

          Bob, it’s not letting me respond to your latest reply, so I’ll do it here and hope that’s okay.

          Sure, part of my point is that many Christians read the Bible as one would expect of educated people with some sophistication in how to read and interpret texts, and with consideration of history, etc. And, yes, I agree that that doesn’t mean that such people (even me) thus agree with all the conclusions of Bart Ehrman or various other scholars. (Although that doesn’t mean that those familiar with it must reject all of Ehrman’s work or find no value in it, or that of various other scholars.)

          But more than that, I’m talking about reading the Bible seriously and carefully and noting and discussing (or thinking about) the kinds of things that you notice and are mentioning, like references to multiple gods, like alternative accounts of the same events, like contrary ideas about why bad things happen, for just a few examples. I don’t think these are things that most Christians just don’t notice or refuse to grapple with. I think they are common subjects of discussion.

          Re: “I’m not talking about progressive revelation; I’m talking about successive, incompatible understandings. If there is just one god, then a henotheistic or monolatrous view is wrong.”

          I don’t get this. I’m not sure what you mean by progressive revelation, but no I don’t mean that God in the Bible first explains something and then gives more information, etc., over time. That’s not consistent with the way the Bible exists today nor with what we know about how it was written and compiled. I mean that we can see in the Bible different levels of ideas that reflect different historical time periods and circumstances and groups. That there was an evolving understanding among the ancient people in question is a way of explaining why there are polytheistic ideas in the Bible. Clearly, there was at one time a belief in multiple gods that at some point (and perhaps not in a clear line) evolved into a view that only one God existed, so the other gods weren’t just for other people or weaker, but non-existent.

          I also agree that if someone is a monotheist the idea that there are multiple gods, whether we should worship them or not, is incorrect. But so what? Is your idea that most Christians understand the Bible to be inerrant and define that in a way that would preclude the kinds of references we are talking about? If so, I think most non-fundamentalist Christians who really grabble with the Bible and who will assert some form of inerrancy define it in a much looser way.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Stephanie:

          I don’t think these are things that most Christians just don’t notice or refuse to grapple with. I think they are common subjects of discussion.

          I disagree, but I don’t have any stats to back up my hunch. I think that most Christians don’t understand the issues discussed in this post well. But we can at least agree that some do.

          no I don’t mean that God in the Bible first explains something and then gives more information, etc., over time. That’s not consistent with the way the Bible exists today nor with what we know about how it was written and compiled. I mean that we can see in the Bible different levels of ideas that reflect different historical time periods and circumstances and groups. That there was an evolving understanding among the ancient people in question is a way of explaining why there are polytheistic ideas in the Bible.

          You seem to have contradicted yourself here. Perhaps what you’re saying is that God’s message is consistent and unchanging, but mankind’s understanding has changed?

          We’re no smarter than the Jews of 3000 years ago. If we can understand it, they could’ve. That their interpretation is so bizarre as to be unrecognizable to you says that this whole thing is an invention. If God were there, he’d have corrected their interpretation. Or, you can say that the Bible is hopeless as a historical record, since this evidence of henotheism comes from the Bible itself.

        • Stephanie

          You seem to have contradicted yourself here. Perhaps what you’re saying is that God’s message is consistent and unchanging, but mankind’s understanding has changed?

          Interesting, as I don’t see any contradiction in what I said. Do you mind explaining?

          I think you are assuming that Christians believe that God’s revelation was some kind of clear message that people should have understood and thus if there are differences in how people understood it that’s a conflict. I don’t think that’s how Christians — or at least many Christians — understand it, especially when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Instead, revelation can be within the developing understanding over time.

          We’re no smarter than the Jews of 3000 years ago. If we can understand it, they could’ve.

          Sure, I didn’t suggest otherwise. But as humans our understanding tends to be built on history, on past understanding, so the notice of a revelation that could work this way doesn’t seem strange. There is also the fact that relevation is understood in the context of one’s one society and other ideas.

          That their interpretation is so bizarre as to be unrecognizable to you…

          I didn’t say that.

          If God were there, he’d have corrected their interpretation.

          Why? I don’t assume that’s true. What’s wrong with a developing understanding over time? What’s wrong with acknowledging that we are human and have clouded understandings influenced highly by the cultures in which we live?

          Or, you can say that the Bible is hopeless as a historical record, since this evidence of henotheism comes from the Bible itself.

          But that certainly doesn’t make it hopeless as a historical record, since it’s quite likely that it reflects real historical beliefs at various periods older than the time at which the Bible was compiled, but included within it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Stephanie:

          Interesting, as I don’t see any contradiction in what I said.

          You say that God doesn’t dribble out information over time. But then you say that understanding changes over time.

          revelation can be within the developing understanding over time.

          This is what you say when you’re trying to rationalize a book that shows the definition of God changing over time, just like all the other manmade gods.

          Why? I don’t assume that’s true.

          Because it’s essential for God to have us correctly understand him. Why spread misinformation? And if your understanding is correct, why wouldn’t God give that information to the Jews 3000 years ago? And if our understanding of God is supposed to change over time, then your understanding of God is probably incorrect right now. And what sense does that make?

          What’s wrong with a developing understanding over time?

          Are my assumptions that out of line? I’m assuming that God wants us to understand him correctly (we shouldn’t think of him as a sad clown or a Loki trickster, for example, if that’s not what he is really like) and that it’s not all that hard to understand. Given that, what sense does a changing understanding over time make?

          What’s wrong with acknowledging that we are human and have clouded understandings influenced highly by the cultures in which we live?

          Because it says that God is an imbecile as a teacher. Wow–how inept is this dude?

        • Bob Jase

          “Wow–how inept is this dude?”

          Well humanity IS supposed to be his most perfect creation – have you looked around lately?

        • Stephanie

          You say that God doesn’t dribble out information over time. But then you say that understanding changes over time.

          Oh, I communicated badly, then. I didn’t say that God doesn’t dribble out information over time and certainly revelation over time IS portrayed in the Bible with respect to other matters, such as the events leading up to Moses and the law. What I intended to concede was that the Bible certainly does not give us a specific description of God successively revealing that God is the only God, rather than a tribal god or the most powerful god, etc. One can interpret successive revelation (if one is so inclined) from the fact that we see within the Bible that there was clearly some kind of movement from the multiple gods, but we only worship this one, to monotheism, in that there are writings and references that seem to acknowledge the existence of multiple gods along with statements that there is just the one (plus what we know of subsequent Judaism, obviously, including by the time the Bible was compiled).

          I’m just saying that the notion that Christians can’t have noticed this, since they’d be shocked and horrified seems strange to me, as I don’t see anything bothersome in it, and haven’t noticed such reactions among other Christians, including quite conservative ones (as I define that term, anyway).

          This is what you say when you’re trying to rationalize a book that shows the definition of God changing over time, just like all the other manmade gods.

          No, it’s just an explanation. I don’t think it needs to be rationalized. I don’t see why I should care that the understanding of God in ancient Israel developed. Nor do I care that the understanding of Christianity and Christian teachings have developed. I quite liked Bob Wright’s Evolution of God. What I’m arguing is that your assumption that this would bother most Christians is wrong.

          Because it’s essential for God to have us correctly understand him.

          It’s pretty obvious that however revelation works it doesn’t demand that everything be clear and impossible for humans to get wrong or figure out as a process. I think that’s kind of the nature of the topic and of human beings and the way we grapple for truth and understanding and that it’s a good thing that we admit that we have limited knowledge and could be wrong. Sure, you can argue “why believe in revelation then” or “in God,” and that’s another topic. But the issue here is about what most Christians believe and I think you are making assumptions that aren’t true, at least for many.

          why wouldn’t God give that information to the Jews 3000 years ago?

          I don’t think God tells people things in that way. For whatever reason (that’s yet another topic for speculation) there’s a working through human understanding and agency.

          And if our understanding of God is supposed to change over time, then your understanding of God is probably incorrect right now.

          I’m sure it is. I don’t pretend to have some kind of complete knowledge, especially about things that are basically mysteries. To state the obvious, one of the basic beliefs of Christianity is the Trinity and clearly no one believed in that pre-Christianity, so why should it be disturbing to Christians that the understanding of God changed over time before that revelation (which was also far from some kind of announcement by God). I’m not saying that you should think any of these ideas are reasonable, but the idea that Christians would be scandalized by the idea (again, obvious from the Bible, IMO) that monotheism was not the first and only understanding of the Jewish god seems odd to me.

          …we shouldn’t think of him as a sad clown or a Loki trickster, for example, if that’s not what he is really like) and that it’s not all that hard to understand. Given that, what sense does a changing understanding over time make?

          This is the interesting question, I think. For the record, I don’t think God is a trickster, that idea is contrary to my basic theological beliefs which support the idea that we can employ reason and empirical observation and so on usefully. But I don’t think the idea that humans must figure out certain things and muddle around with a developing understanding and so on is a trick. It’s just not providing some kind of complete explanation of stuff that’s only partially graspable anyway. I also think the understanding/acceptance of monotheism in a polytheistic culture with a different idea of gods and religion than we now how is harder than you are allowing for. It does seem like an idea — like many secular ideas — that would have to develop over time to be fully accepted and incorporated into religious understanding.

          Because it says that God is an imbecile as a teacher. Wow–how inept is this dude?

          Only if you assume that clouded and incomplete understandings are inconsistent with what God was going for. Again, I don’t see why it should be. You can’t believe that, IMO, and be honest to what we know about who we are as humans. Just look at all we now know about how perspective influences even what we observe, our reasoning, and emotions the same. We are creatures that work within culture in a way we can’t get away from. Why is it this way? Again, that’s another discussion topic, but I think Christians are perfectly capable and likely to have recognized that it is this way, so again the idea that we start with the assumption that God intended to explain everything clearly and unambiguously is unlikely to be accurate in the case of most. (Again, I’m not denying there are some who think this way.)

  • Richard S. Russell

    Just look at the Hebrew rules of grammar for another clue: If cherubim is the plural of cherub and seraphim is the plural of seraph, what can we conclude about elohim?

    • John Kesler

      Elohim is like our English words sheep, fish, and deer: it can be singular or plural, and the verb used determines which it is.

      • http://busterggi@aol.com busterggi

        Could you please cite an actual ancient Hebrew dictionary that says that? Not one written long afterwards by an apologist.

        • John Kesler

          Judges 11:24 is but one example of elohim’s use in the singular:
          ‘Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever Yahweh our God has driven out before us, we will possess it.

          Yoel Wasserman, a Hebrew-speaking former member of a discussion group I frequent, offered the following explanation, of which my earlier post is a summary:

          ELOHIM
          Elohim is not the plural form of god. It is EITHER the plural OR singular
          form of god. Like the word sheep in English is either singular or plural.
          Following is a repost of my original posting dealing with this.

          Elohim is singular OR plural. You can tell which it is by the conjugation
          of the verb. When refering to the Jewish God, the action verb is always
          conjugated in singular.

          The ending -im IS the masculine plural ending, BUT just because -im appears
          at the end of a word does not make the word plural. Just because Jesus ends
          with an “s” (the English plural ending) doesn’t mean that there is more
          than one Jesus. There are a number of words in Hebrew which end with -im
          what are singular. Some are adjectives, some nouns. Some are conjugated as
          plural, some as singular:

          penim (interior) is a singular concept conjugated as singular
          Hayim (life) is a singular concept conjugated as plural
          mayim (water) is singular, but conjugated as plural
          panim (face) is a singular concept but is conjugated as plural
          Alim (violent) is a SINGULAR adjective
          Tamim (pure [at heart]) is a SINGULAR adjective
          Naim (pleasant) is a SINGULAR adjective
          Taim (tasty) is a SINGULAR adjective

          The word for Jerusalem “yerushalayim” ends in -im. Does this mean that
          Jerusalem is a compound city? Is it plural?

          Just because a word has the -im ending doesn’t necessarily mean it’s
          plural. The word Elohim is singular OR plural. It is an unusual word and
          there is good reason for this duality. Hebrew words usually have 1 or 2,
          maybe 3 syllables, rarely four. Why? Because Hebrew grammar dictates that
          certain prefixes and suffixes be added to the base word to form certain
          constructs. So- Hebrew base words are kept as short as possible. Look at
          the words above. They have 2 syllables. The word elohim already has 3
          syllables, and it already has the -im ending added- so it is idiomatic.
          Intead of adding an extra -im to make it plural, thus making it elohimim- a
          clumsy construct, especially when prefixes and/or suffixes are added, the
          plural retains the original -im. “Elohim” is EITHER singular OR plural. NOT
          both simultaneously.

          Look at the word “sheep” in English. There is no word “sheeps”. But does
          this mean that all sheep are one?

          By the way, the Hebrew phrase for Spirit of God in Genesis 1:2 is feminine
          and IS CONJUGATED AS SUCH. So- are you going to state that we have a female
          or bisexual member of the trinity? You are the one who is making judgements
          based on the endings of words. The “Holy Spirit” mentioned in Genesis
          REALLY IS FEMININE! Elohim is not necessarily plural. Like sheep.

          By the way- Elohim is NOT the plural of El (another word for god). Elim is
          the plural of El. Elohim is either the singular or plural form of itself.

        • Nox

          You’ve been given incorrect information.

          El is the singular of god. Elohim is the plural of god. Elohim is the plural form of El.

        • http://busterggi@aol.com busterggi

          Your quote didn’t use the word elohim so its pointless.

          And you quote a modern apologist, not an ancient dictionary, for his INTERPRETATION.

          So you’ve shown zero evidence for your claim.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          One source, the NET Bible, makes clear that “elohim” means “gods” plural. If there is any sheep-like subtleties, I haven’t seen them discussed there.

        • John Kesler

          Elohim is the Hebrew word translated god/God in Judges 11:24, and obviously there is only one deity meant each time. I’ve see you consult Blue Letter Bible before, so see the following for verification:
          http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Jdg&c=11&v=24&t=KJV#conc/24

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          The first definition in Strongs is gods, plural. And yet they don’t list a single instance where that’s how the KJV was translated.

          Bias in favor of a preconception, I’m guessing?

        • John Kesler

          Perhaps. The NAS translates elohim as “gods” 204 times:
          http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/elohiym.html

        • RowanVT

          I just asked this of my Jewish boyfriend. Elohim is singular… of a plural. It is the “lord of hosts”, implying many but that one is on top.

        • Greg G.

          Judges 11:24 applies “‘elohiym” to two different gods, Kĕmowsh and Yĕhovah. It seems that the “thy” and the “our” might well be “of the”. It looks like henotheism, not monotheism.

        • Alan

          It is obvious that Elohim is used both to denote a single entity and multiple entities in the bible – denying it makes you as reckless as most apolgetics and doesn’t serve the broader point.

          The proof is in the verbs used alongside elohim – take for example Genesis 1:3 where the verb is VaYoMer, as it would be a for a single person, as opposed to VaYoMeRu as it would be if the Elohim were plural. Likewise the next two verses begin VaYar and VaYikra instead or VaRaru and VaYikRu.

          Demanding an ancient dictionary as proof is as nonsensical as insisting on evidence God does not exist and makes you look like an intellectual weakling. Demonstrating that there Hebrew Bible consists of different texts with distinct versions of God, including ones best understood as one among many, does not require you to ignore basic Hebrew grammar.

  • John Kesler

    Micah 4:1-5 is an interesting passage, worth quoting in full to provide the context, which is the envisioned rule of Yahweh from a restored Zion:

    4:1 In days to come the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, 2 and many nations shall come and say:
    ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. ’for out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. 3 He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; 4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of Yahweh of hosts has spoken. 5 For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of Yahweh our God for ever and ever.

    Notice that v:5 says that “all the peoples” (Gentiles) would continue to follow their respective gods. You could go to most churches for decades and never hear this verse quoted. Six years ago, I wrote about Israelite polytheism, and the post can be read here: tinyurl.com/othergods

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I hadn’t seen that Micah verse. Good one.

  • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

    Ooh, I’ve been waiting for this one. This is a topic that’s always fascinated me. I remember being a kid and reading this stuff, and coming to the conclusion that there were other gods, but big G god did not want people to worship them (because he wanted all the offerings to himself, I assumed). At the time I didn’t have the historical knowledge to understand that the bible books don’t appear in chronological order, and that over time the writers had gradually moved towards monotheism.

  • avalon

    (Exod 18:11)
    Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods, for in the thing in which they dealt proudly against them he has destroyed them.”

    • http://busterggi@aol.com busterggi

      Now prove that’s true.

    • Ben David

      This i spoken by Jethro the “high priest of Midian” as he comes to Moses to convert – a statement by a pagan accepting monotheism and NEGATING the plural deities he has worshiped until now.

      Nice try though – you can “prove” anything with mindless Googling.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Some trivia for you: in the English language, there is no singular word to go along with the plural cattle which does not specify sex.
    male female plural singular
    cock hen chickens chicken
    boar sow pigs pig
    ram ewe sheep sheep
    bull cow cattle ???

    • C.J. O’Brien

      “swine” and “fowl” are much the same in current usage. “Cattle” is derived from “chattel” via Anglo-Norman French meaning moveable property, especially livestock. Tthe form “cattle” became restricted to bovine livestock in the 16th c. So not surprising that it should lack a singular form. It’s essentially a derived form of a term for “(a certain kind of) stuff”.

    • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

      Cattlebeast. Although I suppose that’s technically two words.

      • Jeff

        Nope! That’s the whole point of compound words: you take multiple parts and smoosh them together into one thing. And since you speak English, you have all the authority necessary to add words to the language as you see fit. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

  • MNb

    I have always found this a no-brainer and I understand that most theologians accept this point as well. There is somewhere in the OT a contest between Jhwh and Baal. Such a contest is only possible if you accept that there is more than one god. What’s more, the whole book of Bible is a contest between Jhwh and the Devil. Once again we have two gods.
    Finally we are not even discussing Holy Trinity, where we have three in one. Just ask a muslim scholar what he thinks about this. He will answer: polytheism.
    The whole idea that the Bible consists a consistent, eternal, objective and never changing truth is a joke. What I think even more laughable is the idea that, despite all its positive qualities 2000 years ago, the Bible and Lord Jesus are so special that they should have the last word, that mankind can stop developing new thoughts on ethics etcetera.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      MNb:

      Agreed. The response that I got from Drewl reminds me of the reception that Bart Ehrman got with his Misquoting Jesus. They said that this was old news to historians. Fair enough–but since theologians and historians had obviously done a poor job in getting the word out to average Christians, Ehrman was doing a service.

      There is somewhere in the OT a contest between Jhwh and Baal.

      1 Kings 18. Elijah kicks some Baal butt.

      the whole book of Bible is a contest between Jhwh and the Devil.

      “The Devil” is another concept that has morphed substantially throughout the Bible. Worth another post.

      He will answer: polytheism.

      Sound right to me. I can’t understand why Christians don’t just embrace it. I guess polytheism is primitive?

    • Hanan

      I have never understood the Elijah story on Mount Carmet to be an acceptance of two Gods WITHIN Israelite worship. If anything, it was a simple test against the idol worshipping Israelites.. God would not hinder any God [Baal] doing his “magic” on the sacrifice. In fact, Elijah would make his [YHYW]sacrifice much harder to be lit on fire.

      To make it more contemporary, image an atheist burning a holy book testing if God is going to punish him. Does that mean there is an acceptance of God? No.

    • Ben David

      Ba’al is a pagan Canaanite god that is completely rejected by Judaism. During the conquest of Israel, some Israelis strayed into Canaanite idol worship. There is NO accommodation of, or respect for, Ba’al in Jewish theology.

      Again – you can prove anything by taking things out of context, or running a Google search.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Ben:

        you can prove anything by taking things out of context, or running a Google search.

        What was attempted to be proved by taking things out of context?

        Judaism started out as henotheism, which shows its non-divine origins. It’s pretty simple.

  • JohnH

    Mormons prefer the term Monolatry over Polytheism as they actually mean different things. There are plenty of more examples that you haven’t mentioned, including many in Isaiah. The prophets appear to be generally at least Henotheistic with most being Monolatrist. Isaiah is written from a Monolatrist perspective, and not so much a Monotheist one. Interestingly enough one of the early claims against Christianity by the pagans was that it was Polytheistic, Justin Martyr gave a defense that it was Monotheistic; though again being sons of God, joint heirs with Christ, and having God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit points more towards Mormonism Monolatry then the heavily Greek influenced Monotheism which it is claimed to be, of course I am by no means unbiased in making that statement.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      John:

      Mormons prefer the term Monolatry over Polytheism as they actually mean different things.

      Right. I defined all that in the post, didn’t I?

      There are plenty of more examples that you haven’t mentioned, including many in Isaiah.

      Yes. I have a long list, and I only kept the ones that I thought made the point best. But if you have some favorites, share them with us.

      Isaiah is written from a Monolatrist perspective, and not so much a Monotheist one.

      But wouldn’t you agree that the two Isaiah examples that I give (from second Isaiah) are monotheistic?

      points more towards Mormonism Monolatry then the heavily Greek influenced Monotheism which it is claimed to be

      I don’t see your point. I definitely see the problem with the contradictory concept of the Trinity, but the Trinity is polytheistic, not monolatrist, wouldn’t you say? There’s three frikkin’ deities there.

      • JohnH

        Bob,
        I don’t think you understand the term Monolatry, as you never defined it in the post. It is different from Henotheism. I think that talking about idols doesn’t deter one from being Monolatrist, iconoclast sure but chapter 46 appears to assume that Bel and Nebo are real, just unworthy of worship and powerless.

        Three beings but one united divine council is the Mormon conception of the Trinity, meaning it is Monolatrist.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I don’t think you understand the term Monolatry, as you never defined it in the post.

          I said, “The philosophy has moved from henotheism to monolatry. Like henotheism, many gods are accepted and only one is worshipped, but now worship of other gods is forbidden.”

          Three beings but one united divine council is the Mormon conception of the Trinity, meaning it is Monolatrist.

          If it’s 3 separate beings, why isn’t this polytheism?

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          You are right, I guess I missed that, sorry.

          “why isn’t this polytheism?”
          Because they are one Elohim, one divine council governed by God, the Father. Worship is done to the Father in Jesus’ name, Jesus being the mediator between God and Man.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Because they are one Elohim, one divine council governed by God, the Father.

          If Congress were gods, they’d be one divine council. Would worship of them be monotheism? I don’t think so.

        • Richard S. Russell

          When I think of all the brainpower that’s been wasted coming up with crap like this to try to weasel out of the bizarre and ludicrous consequences of crazy theology, and insane ideas like trinitarianism, I could just weep. Christopher Hitchens had it right: Religion poisons everything!

        • JohnH

          We worship the Father in Jesus name, and it certainly is not Monotheism and I never said it was.

          Richard, whatever else one can possibly say about Mormons, believing in trinitarianism is not one of them.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    Do your research. While Elohim may be the plural form of El, it is often paired with a verb in the singular. In such cases it is to be understood that “Elohim” is actually the singular and not the plural. Here are some references.
    http://www.israelofgod.org/elohim1.htm
    http://www.gci.org/god/elohim4
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elohim#Grammar.C2.A0.E2.80.93_singular_or_plural

    Further, when it is used in conjunction with a plural verb form it is better translated as “supernatural beings greater than human” or “quasi-divine entities.” Thus, “angels” is a valid translation but it could also include demons and/or things which are thought of as supernatural but are not.

    If you won’t believe me, and you won’t believe my references, then I suggest that you look at Exodus 3:6 which you would translate, “I am the Lord, gods of your fathers.” If you won’t believe that I can give you the name of a Hebrew professor and you can talk to him. If you won’t believe him then I suggest you actually get in contact with a non-theist professor of Hebrew before spouting nonsense.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT:

      You talking to me?

      Sure, let’s assume that Elohim can be singular or plural. How does that change the point of the post that Judaism came from henotheistic origins?

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        Sure, let’s assume that Elohim can be singular or plural.

        That statement is equivalent to “Let us assume that the word ‘the’ is the definite article in the English language.” It can be both whether you like it or not. That is an objective fact.

        How does that change the point of the post that Judaism came from henotheistic origins?

        Your argument is the equivalent to, “Fossil fuels cause pollution because they are made from dead kittens.” I object to that form of argumentation as it is based on false facts and bad assumptions.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Your argument is the equivalent to, “Fossil fuels cause pollution because they are made from dead kittens.” I object to that form of argumentation as it is based on false facts and bad assumptions.

          And this helps illuminate the problem not at all. Be specific. What’s the problem with the post?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          And this helps illuminate the problem not at all. Be specific. What’s the problem with the post?

          “Elohim is plural” is not only a bad argument for whether or not Judaism had polytheistic crossovers it is also fundamentally false. Since the majority of your argument hinges on this, if you want even a hint of credibility you need to go back and make the argument with real facts. In the meanwhile, your argument is unsound and unsupported.

          Heck, I’m not even saying that you are fundamentally incorrect in your assertions. But your argument, as it stands, well, doesn’t.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Are you not paying attention? “Elohim is plural” isn’t my argument. In fact, search “Elohim” in the post above, and you’ll see it used in two places where context makes it singular.

          Uh … can I take off the dunce cap now, teacher?

          Let me suggest that you actually read the post. If you have constructive criticism, I’d love to hear it. Random blather, however, isn’t as helpful.

        • Richard S. Russell

          Bob wasn’t the one who pointed out that elohim is plural, I was. And I just noted it casually in passing, so not only was it not the majority of Bob’s argument, it wasn’t even the majority of mine.

          I’m perfectly willing to grant that sometimes elohim may have been used (or at least translated) as singular. Is it not true that at least some of the time it was also used in the plural? And does this not mean that Judaism didn’t start out asserting the veracity of a monotheistic universe?

          Or do you really mean to say that every occurrence of elohim in the OT was singular?

    • Bob Jase

      More modern interpretations – still no contemporary evidence.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        More modern interpretations – still no contemporary evidence.

        Only if you don’t count the numerous times in the text where interpreting Elohim as plural is grammatical nonsense (Again “I am the Lord your gods” does not make sense). Of course, linguists generally will not ignore such contextual hints. For that matter, professors in Ancient Hebrew will agree with the interpretation that “Elohim” (like the word Sabaoth) can be both singular and plural. I can give you the contact information on some if you like.

        • Bob Jase

          Much of the bible is nonsense, grammatical & otherwise. Perhaps you didn’t know this but ancient Hebrew is a dead language that has been reconstructed, for instance it contained no vowels so all translations & vocalizations of it are guesswork – languages change over time (see the Great Vowel Shift for instance). Also no punctuation was used, the whole chapter & verse thing was imposed centuries later by Christians who realized the original was too confusing to make sense unless sense was imposed onto it. Also spelling and grammer were clearly not uniform in the oldest surviving versions.

          “professors in Ancient Hebrew” – like I said, modern interpreters with their own agendas, not contemporaries.

        • Hanan

          So wouldn’t by extension ancient ugaritic language and its interpretation be guesswork? It suffers from the same issues. I’m sorry to say this, but even if ancient hebrew is dead to you, it still had grammatical rules. So I don’t understand your claim of it being nonsense.

  • Jeff

    I’m surprised the royal we (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majestic_plural) hasn’t come up in this discussion. It’s essentially a mode of speech favored by people in positions of high authority in which they use the plural form of self-identification instead of the singular. The wikipedia article even touches on its use in the OT.

    • Bob Jase

      That’s because even the most ardent believers can’t stand the idea of Yahweh sounding like a bad imitation of Queen Elizabeth.

  • rumitoid

    I can assure you that the vast amount of Christians do not know of an “evolution” from many gods to one god, whether you call it polytheism or henothism. And I suppose the point is not to enrich their Bible study experience but to possibly undermine their faith and their trust in Scripture. I can only imagine this is for what you consider the best intentions. Of course, there will be those for whom such revelations will rattle their cage, either with the hand of d0ubt or anger. Most, in my opinion (probably considering the source but not solely for that reason), will be unfazed, settling on some handy and unexamined explanation that maintains their beliefs. But I suppose there will be a few for whom this will shake them to their core and lead to becoming more in your image and your image of how a person should think and be in the world. Good luck.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      rumitoid:

      And where are you in this project? Do you agree with the point of the post? Do you think that Christianity is built on a firm foundation? Do you like to see Christians’ cages rattled?

      • rumitoid

        How could one not agree with the point of the post.
        Faith is not and should not ever be a firm foundation. Faith demands no proof or supports.
        And yes, I like to see Christians’ cages rattled. Yet that only creates greater resolve.
        It seems that the point is looking for another conversion dynamic. Think like us and u r ok. You may claim instead that it a pure call to reason. Religion is dangerous. And it is, but so is every area of life. Do ou eventually want to do away with politics?

    • Bob Jase

      Cthulhu forbid that Christians learn the truth about how their religion developed, evolved, stole ideas from pagans, etc. Much better to have ignorance & faith than any idea why one worships as one does.

  • Jay

    Even if modern day Christanity developed out of polytheism, what would this change?

    • Becca

      @Jay, the basic religious text for Christians is the Bible. Biblical hints that the Abrahamic god started off as one god among many in a polytheistic pantheon then evolved to become the Abrahamic god we know today contradict the Biblical belief that this god existed from the beginning of time, is the only god, etc. It forces us to look at the development of this god from a historical perspective.

      • Jay

        Becca, thank you for the reply. I think what you are saying brings up some interesting points from a historical perspective, but I’m not sure it really would change or challenge anything substantially from a theological perspective. Many Christian traditions teach that the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ, even though writers never knew who Jesus was. Even if earliest writers might have believed there to be more than one god, this would not negate the idea that it could have been inspired by the one true God (maybe it would negate this within some religious traditions, especially those with very literal interpretations of the Bible, but not all). Even if the development of God started out with pantheism, I still don’t believe it would change much in regards to current interpretations of who God is nor do I believe it would serve as a contradiction to their being a one true God within Abrahamic religions or the existence of God from the beginning of time. Interesting information to look at things more closely from a historical perspective, but I really don’t think it challenges anything theologically, even if true. Again, thank you for the reply.

        • Richard S. Russell

          It is kind of a whack upside the head for the hypothesis that all those early Bible writers were divinely inspired, tho, doncha think?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jay:

          Even if modern day Christanity developed out of polytheism, what would this change?

          I must agree with terse Richard. The evolution of the idea of God shows that he’s fiction. Fictional/mythological/legendary characters evolve; the unchanging creator of the universe doesn’t.

        • Jay

          Thank you for the reply Bob. I appreciate your time.

          Theologically, what you are saying still doesn’t add up. From a theological perspective, God always stays the same. Human understanding of who God is is what has developed through time. From what I understand from your writing you seem to be saying that since some individuals who wrote some of the early books might have believed in more than one God, this means that God has evolved like some legendary hero. Many mainline churches already say that the relationship between God and man has developed significantly from Old Testament to New Testament. I’m sure you’ve heard someone argue at one time or another that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are different gods. Many Christian religions say the apparent differences are due to an evolution between the relationship of God and man. Changes in the relationship between God and man as well as how man interprets who God is have been discussed for a long time within the history of many churches already.

          Richard, thank you as we’ll for your reply. Whether or not one believes whether or not the early writers of the Bible were divinely inspired is a matter of belief. As to what I think, I believe the Roman Catholic Church’s interpretation of the Bible is accurate. So, no, the idea that they were divinely inspired is not a whack upside the head for me. Take care.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jay:

          From a theological perspective, God always stays the same.

          And the Bible, on which you’re building your theological perspective (right?), says that he doesn’t. You can’t just handwave this away.

          you seem to be saying that since some individuals who wrote some of the early books might have believed in more than one God, this means that God has evolved like some legendary hero.

          Right. And you can get rid of this only by discarding the Bible (or tweaking your “canon”).

          I’m sure you’ve heard someone argue at one time or another that the God of the OT and the God of the NT are different gods.

          And they can’t literally mean that and still be a conventional Christian.

          Many Christian religions say the apparent differences are due to an evolution between the relationship of God and man.

          Nutty idea. God changes his mind over time? God thinks that he should interact this way and then (whoops!) he changes his mind?

        • Kodie

          @Jay – why would the understanding of god change over generations of humans? Wouldn’t every individual of each generation deserve to understand clearly what god is? Do you think they understand more clearly now than they ever did before, or they understand less but just keep talking because they don’t actually get any answers? You do know that humans are inventors, creators, innovators. What does that say about religion? What about religion is not affected by human imagination the way everything else is? Did they drive cars in the bible? Did they have guns in the bible? Did they have antibiotics in the bible? Did they have phones in the bible? Of course not. And who made these things? The same kinds of human beings who creatively infer that there is a god to understand any better than they ever did – which is not at all. It’s a story that keeps getting less relevant, so revisions have to be invented or else these people will apparently feel compelled to go on murdering sprees. Wait, I skipped a step. Money. God is “understood” a little better because otherwise people would catch on that it’s a racket.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jay:

          Many Christian traditions teach that the Old Testament points to Jesus Christ

          Yes. Kind of a foolish argument, isn’t it? To imagine that the Johnny-come-lately Christians actually know what it means, and those silly Jews from long ago (to whom this was actually addressed) were a bit confused?

          Even if the development of God started out with pantheism, I still don’t believe it would change much in regards to current interpretations of who God is

          How can you see the idea of God change with time (what legends do but an unchanging god wouldn’t) and still think that the God concept is safe, with not a scratch on it?

          If God evolved from polytheism, he can’t exist in the immutable form that Christians today imagine.

        • Jay

          Wow, you’re very fast replying :) I stay with my previous reply that man’s interpretation of who God is is what has evolved and not God himself. The development of the relationship between God and man as well as the development of man’s understanding of who God is is something that has already been covered quite extensively by many church theologians. After that, I think it boils down to something we simply have agree to disagree on. Take care and have a good night.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jay:

          I stay with my previous reply that man’s interpretation of who God is is what has evolved and not God himself.

          And this ignores the point of the blog post. See for yourself how the interpretation of God has changed. That’s in your Bible.

          The development of the relationship between God and man as well as the development of man’s understanding of who God is is something that has already been covered quite extensively by many church theologians.

          Doubtless. Millions of smart theologians over the centuries will cobble together a decent defense of anything. That doesn’t mean that it’s correct.

          Look at people defending Scientology. Or Mormonism. Or Islam. People pushed into a corner are very creative and enthusiastic about their defense of their religion. But when clues within the religion itself show how it was put together, what do you do with that? If God gave you a brain, wouldn’t it be rude to not use it?

  • Duane

    And the answer is:

    So what?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      What I just said to Jay. That the concept of God evolving over time shows that he’s fiction. Legends evolve; the creator of the universe never would.

      Alternatively, you could cling to your idea of God, but you’d need to dump the Bible if it has become the problem.

      • JohnH

        Bob,
        You make the false assumption that God would reveal everything about his nature immediately and that prophets would not carry baggage from the beliefs that surround them. Even if say Elijah had a complete knowledge of the nature of God and of the lack of reality of all other gods that doesn’t mean that anyone else (even those that weren’t worshiping idols) did or that those making the record had a correct understanding.

        Just because God reveals more of Himself at various times through out the Biblical record does not mean that God is evolving over time, but that we both individually and collectively are supposed to be the ones evolving in our understanding of God and we probably shouldn’t suppose that we understand everything of God now. Dumping the Bible is not necessary.

        • Richard S. Russell

          As far as “not necessary” goes, the Bible itself is not necessary.

          Or, if we take the existence of the Bible as a given, whatever it says about God is not necessary.

          We know from experience that people’s understanding of the world around them changes over time, and that stories change over time as well. Isn’t that far and away the best explanation for all the convoluted twists and turns (not to mention contradictions and falsehoods) that occur thruout the Biblical record? Why invoke God at all?

        • JohnH

          Richard,
          The Bible itself is not necessarily true a priori, neither is what is says about God necessarily true even if the Bible itself is a true record of Gods dealing with people. I am agreeing that peoples understanding of the world changes over time and I am saying the same is true in the Bible (and the New Testament explicitly says that). The question of the truth of the Bible or of God is completely separate from the question of what the Bible says about our understanding of God and since the Bible itself says that while Moses, Abraham, and others of the prophets had a correct understanding of God the people around them did not (from the Old Testament), and they were not allowed to share everything they knew of God (according to the New). Again asking whether any of it is true is a completely different question the is relatively unrelated to the discussion at hand (and given our previous encounters with your own private definitions of everything which are unrelated to the dictionary or whatever anyone else thinks, not one I will be having with you, Richard).

        • Richard S. Russell

          OK, John, you say that “dumping the Bible is not necessary”, but then you make a very good case as to how unreliable it is, so would you agree with me that, while dumping it isn’t necessary, it’s still probably a pretty good idea?

          And, again, why invoke God at all? We’ve got a book of fables and legends. We know that human beings come up with stories like this all the time. Isn’t that a sufficient explanation for what you forthrightly grant is a faulty, flawed, unreliable anthology of dubious authorship?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Given all this talk about how God could be like this or that, about how he might want to portray himself how he really is or like something else or mimic false myths, got me thinking about this Mitchell and Webb Look comedy sketch:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sifESist1KY

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          I wonder about the Jesus thing being introduced so late in the game. Did God just wake up one day and slap his forehead and say, “Doh! I forgot to make clear that Jesus was the only way to me! Oh man–what a knucklehead. Well, better late than never …”?

          Your arguments seem to be nothing more than rationalizations for why you are entitled to keep your god belief. If you’re determined to do so, I’m sure that, like millions before you, you will find a way. But don’t you want to know the truth?

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          Jesus is set up right from the start of the old testament.

        • Kodie

          It was a long con, since god’s first idea was to drown everyone.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Jesus is set up right from the start of the old testament.

          You can reinterpret just about anything, I suppose, but you do have the uncomfortable fact that the original audience for the Old Testament certainly did not see Jesus right from the start.

        • Marcion

          “You make the false assumption that God would reveal everything about his nature immediately”

          Why not? He’s clearly capable of doing so, so why not just beam the full, complete knowledge of his nature directly into the mind of every single human being on earth? Is an omnipotent being incapable of communicating in a clear manner? And before you say anything about free will, God communicated with the prophets, did that interfere with their free will? When Jesus spoke to his disciples, was their free will violated?

          Why would god even want our understanding to evolve over time? Why would he want the Jews to believe he’s the cruel, hateful, petty, violent Yahweh, and worship him accordingly, instead of the kind, loving Jesus?

          And isn’t god supposed to be omnibenevolent? Thousands of people have died due to disputes over gods’ nature. God could have ended all of that before it even began just by telling the truth, but he let it go on for millenia. Does he enjoy watching people kill each other over whether Jesus is made of the same substance as god or similar but slightly different substance than god?

        • JohnH

          “why not just beam the full, complete knowledge of his nature directly into the mind of every single human being on earth?”
          Because then the majority of people would promptly irrevocably damn themselves which is completely contrary to the current situation in which everyone is by default saved and irrevocably damning yourself is actually a very hard task to accomplish. Sinning with a perfect knowledge of God is not a good place to be in.

          ” God communicated with the prophets, did that interfere with their free will?”
          When Jesus appeared to Paul then Paul choice of beliefs and actions in regards to certain things certainly became much more limited in terms of their eventual consequence, so sort of yes and no. Yes in that Paul was no longer able to continue what he was doing and claim ignorance, yes in that Paul was no longer able to choose to do or believe (or not believe) any number of things and claim ignorance, no in that Paul was still capable of doing or believing any of those things, and yes in that a new set of options and choices opened up to Paul.

          “Why would god even want our understanding to evolve over time?”
          Individually? Because God loves us and wants us to grow and progress; to grow and progress entails an evolving of our understanding over time. Collectively? Because God loves us and doesn’t/didn’t want to damn large groups of people that were unprepared for further knowledge; there is actually a pretty big debate between God and Moses on the subject in Exodus with Moses later declaring in Numbers “would God that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”, in the Old Testament the primary concern appears to have been getting the people to actually worship God at all instead of worshiping idols where as understanding Jesus and what He did/would do required that one worshiped God to begin with.

          “Thousands of people have died due to disputes over gods’ nature”
          I believe it would be more correct to say tens of millions at least, and I believe that God weeps over the wickedness of men, which includes killing each other over largely philosophical debates in regards to the nature of God instead of asking God about His own nature.

        • Kodie

          God never actually answers them. They’re making up what they want to be true. That’s not revelation, that’s not a better understanding of god over time, and that’s not ever god reaching out to humans to help them understand him better. If we are at the highest point of understanding god at this time now, then people who died before didn’t understand him well at all, and that’s the kind of god you worship? How well do you think that you are able to understand god? How much more is there to understand that you’ll never know because god is saving more “understanding” for future generations?

          All this is is a rationalization.

        • Richard S. Russell

          “You make the false assumption that God would reveal everything about his nature immediately”

          The use of the word “reveal” is telling. It makes plain the fact that the dude was hiding something from the get-go. It’s astonishing how much convolution true believers have to go thru to explain why God would go to such great lengths to conceal himself to 99.999999% of humanity 99.999999% of the time.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Because then the majority of people would promptly irrevocably damn themselves which is completely contrary to the current situation in which everyone is by default saved and irrevocably damning yourself is actually a very hard task to accomplish.

          But every person you witness to, you’re putting in this terrible position. How can evangelism be good but God making the facts plain is bad?

          Individually? Because God loves us and wants us to grow and progress; to grow and progress entails an evolving of our understanding over time.

          “God wants his plan to be revealed over time” makes no sense. God had no problem delivering a new and harsh set of rules with the Ten Commandments. There wasn’t a 10-generation grace period where he would simply hand out warnings to people who broke the laws. Nope–it was death penalty on the first offence, with no grace period given. In one moment, once Mo came down from Sinai, new rules were in place. So don’t pretend that God wants our understanding of reality to evolve over time. This is just a rationalization to incorporate some unpleasant facts into your worldview.

          I believe that God weeps over the wickedness of men, which includes killing each other over largely philosophical debates in regards to the nature of God instead of asking God about His own nature.

          And God has no role in this? God’s inaction doesn’t make him culpable?

          One answer: God is perfect by definition.

          Another: God can do whatever he wants and you won’t hear me complaining.

          Another: God destroyed the whole frikkin’ world by slow drowning, so what the heck does he care about human misery?

        • JohnH

          Kodie,
          ” and that’s the kind of god you worship?”
          There are those from the time the world began that have spoken with God face to face and have a direct knowledge of him. Since the time the world began there have been those that have rejected the testimony of those that have seen God, and so general knowledge of God changes over time but is not always a progression. Such testimonies today can be found in “The Living Christ; the testimony of the Apostles”.

          ” How well do you think that you are able to understand god?”
          I understand very little of God and am constantly seeking to understand Him better.

          “How much more is there to understand that you’ll never know because god is saving more “understanding” for future generations?””
          Regardless of what understanding God is saving for when people are more prepared, I am able, through the grace of Christ, to come to a greater understanding then I have now and even eventually to see God, potentially while still alive.

          In terms of proof, I have shared some evidence previously, I have the testimony of others, I have many experiences which serve as witness to me even if are “unconvincing” to anyone else, and I have the assurance of the Holy Spirit. I know it is true, even if I don’t know everything about it or all the details.

          As to your other questions down below, answers are no; not really; your understanding of what I believe on the subject is vastly mistaken, I suggest reading Gospel Principles; The Father of my soul and the father of Jesus Christ here on earth.

          Bob,
          “How can evangelism be good but God making the facts plain is bad?”
          Studying for a test is good, being given a test without having been presented the material and being judged based on that would be bad.

          Pretty sure you mean the Law of Moses, not the Ten Commandments as if you think the Ten Commandments are very harsh then you have issues. Regardless, the Law is not that harsh comparatively and see Galatians and Romans for Paul’s take on the subject.

          “God has no role in this?”
          Why don’t you ask God?

          ” God’s inaction doesn’t make him culpable?”
          No, If someones adult children were to go out and kill some people would that parent be culpable for their actions? Perhaps mildly if the parent had not warned them that their actions were self-destructive and not set an example of how to act, but not at all if the parent has behaved correctly as a parent and as a person. A parent that knows that their adult children are behaving poorly may also know, perhaps even with a perfect knowledge, that those children will get into trouble with the law but that parent can not have their children locked up until the children have actually committed a crime.

          “so what the heck does he care about human misery?”
          God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to atone for our own errors, not to condemn the world but that if we wish to not perish that we can be saved from what we have willfully chosen. Jesus, who is also a member of the Godhead, volunteered to come and suffer for our sins which suffering caused Him, the greatest of all, to bleed from every pore so that if we would repent we can be freed from suffering and our tears can be wiped away. We are God’s children and He loves us as a father and cries over us when we hurt ourselves and those around us by our actions.

          “God can do whatever he wants”
          False, God is as much bound by morality as we are, some of His morality is different from what is available to us, just as what is moral for a nation to do in executing its laws can be very different from what is moral for a person to do, or what is moral for parent to do may be immoral for a child to do. If God does not keep His promises and covenants then He would cease to be God, which shows “God is perfect by definition.” to also be false.

        • Kodie

          God sounds like an incompetent human at best. Some of his morality is different from what is available to us? Not really god-like.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Studying for a test is good, being given a test without having been presented the material and being judged based on that would be bad.

          Agreed, but how is this relevant?

          If a so-so teacher is a little good, a truly fantastic teacher who graduates a class that completely understands the material to its core is far better. So if you (a fallible teacher) is a little good, the Big Man himself revealing everything at once is far better.

          Pretty sure you mean the Law of Moses, not the Ten Commandments as if you think the Ten Commandments are very harsh then you have issues.

          Yes, I have issues with the Ten Commandments. You blaspheme? You die. You dishonor your parents? You die.

          Why don’t we have laws like that today? Because they’re immoral. Conclusion: they were immoral (by our standards, anyway) then.

          Why don’t you ask God?

          God apparently isn’t on speaking terms with me.

          No, If someones adult children were to go out and kill some people would that parent be culpable for their actions?

          No. But why bring up this irrelevant example?

          If you were clairvoyant and saw what was going to happen and where, and you could easily stop the crime but didn’t, would you be culpable? You bet your sweet bippy you would be.

          God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to atone for our own errors

          (1) The sacrifice of the Son wasn’t a big deal–he died and then popped back into existence. When my loved ones have died, they’ve stayed dead.

          (2) The Jesus thing doesn’t get God off the hook for his Old Testament crimes–drowning the world, genocide, endorsing slavery, and so on.

          God is as much bound by morality as we are…

          I like it.

          … some of His morality is different from what is available to us

          … but now you’re tap dancing. If God’s morality is different from ours, you can’t call God moral, good, just, and so on. You either use the words as they apply to humans or you don’t. If God’s standards are different, then you must say that God is unjudgeable.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          Mormons, unlike most other Christians, don’t consider death on the Cross to be the biggest part of the atonement but the smallest. Christ taking on our sins in the garden and paying the price for them is what the atonement is primarily about and the resurrection is where Christ overcame death, the cross was just the end of the first part and a necessary step for the second.

          “… but now you’re tap dancing.”
          No, I am not. Nations regularly do things which if an individual were to do them would be immoral, it is no different with God; by nature of being our father, the creator of the world, and other reasons there are things which are God’s prerogative which were we to do would definitely be wrong. God can not lie, God can not steal that which is actually ours and not on lone from Him, however God must be allowed to allow/cause death as otherwise you are holding the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe to a more restrictive standard then what you hold the State Government of Washington, which is silly.

          God can not punish crimes that hasn’t happened yet nor reward righteousness that hasn’t taken place as to do so is unjust. If one hasn’t committed the crime then one can not be certain that one would commit the crime, even if a clairvoyant does know that they would have committed the crime, getting punished for the crime would therefore appear unjust to the one being punished, just as much as being rewarded would be unjust for one that hadn’t done anything good, but would have.

          “but how is this relevant?”
          Because God revealing everything at once would be a test, which most people would promptly fail, even assuming they were pure enough to stand in His presence in the first place.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          Mormons, unlike most other Christians, don’t consider death on the Cross to be the biggest part of the atonement but the smallest. Christ taking on our sins in the garden and paying the price for them is what the atonement is primarily about and the resurrection is where Christ overcame death

          So this was just a pro forma kind of thing? Like my wife can’t sign a contract for me even if I give permission–ya just gotta do it by the rules?

          it is no different with God; by nature of being our father, the creator of the world, and other reasons there are things which are God’s prerogative which were we to do would definitely be wrong.

          I’m simply asking that we respect the dictionary. Word have certain meanings, and we don’t change them on a whim.

          If ordering genocide would be bad for me, it would be bad for God. If you don’t want to judge God for anything, I can accept that, but no longer can you judge him good, just, merciful, etc.

          God can not lie

          Read 1 Kings 22:19–23. For another kind of deception, read Ezekiel 20:25–6.

          If one hasn’t committed the crime then one can not be certain that one would commit the crime, even if a clairvoyant does know that they would have committed the crime, getting punished for the crime

          Why does the atheist have to educate the Mormon about how God works?

          We’re not talking about punishing anyone but on crime prevention. If you were clairvoyant and saw a crime about to be committed, and you could do something to prevent the crime but didn’t, you would be a bad person.

          Because God revealing everything at once would be a test, which most people would promptly fail

          No idea what you’re talking about.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          You make the false assumption that God would reveal everything about his nature immediately and that prophets would not carry baggage from the beliefs that surround them.

          I simply say that the fact that the Bible looks like the documentation of the evolution of yet another (manmade) Canaanite religion is very relevant. The Christian always has the fallback of appealing to God’s mysterious nature and how fabulously more intelligent he is.

          Maybe he has his reasons. But, since we don’t know those, we are obliged to consider Judaism’s Canaanite-ness as very significant.

          Dumping the Bible is not necessary.

          You could keep the Bible for tradition (like cultural-but-not-religious Jews, for example). You could try to salvage wisdom (though none comes to mind). And no one wants to discard it as a historical record. But the naturalistic (or anthropological?) explanation is so screaming obvious that handwaving “Well, God was just revealing himself, bit by bit, over time” doesn’t stand up.

        • Kodie

          Your excuse is simply the rationalization that god does not stand up to scrutiny. Theists fault atheists for having higher expectations of a deity than theists have and all the while, god is getting less and less amazing. He used to have to reveal himself in dramatic ways! But now he is not so flashy, he is understated, we understand that he has unknowable reasons for keeping himself hidden that only the theologians can sense subtle glances of god appearing in what otherwise looks like nature to the rest of us.

          These are terrible and unsatisfactory explanations. Human beings seem capable of mending all these gaps as the questions keep coming, they can always think of an answer. Is that god revealing himself through the scholars of your tribe, or is that the scholars of your tribe warping any scrap they can imagine to fit the premise that god exists and reality (science) is not compromised by his existence? I don’t find any theists really great at explaining god as a plausible thing, but you’re really great at making it all up as you go along, like a pathological liar would weave up something not the least bit believable to anyone who doesn’t sincerely want it to be true.

          Try to see it from the outside sometime. If someone were telling you these stories about a different god or their religion, you would recognize a crock when you saw it. Do not complain that atheists put too much rigor on your god to perform miracles and excessive displays, when you’re (a) bad at explaining, and (b) not putting enough rigor, instead choosing to go the route of “that’s just a newer understanding”, i.e. god is imperceptible, and our “understanding” is more of a grasping at fantasy.

        • Marcion

          Thanks for your response JohnH. It’s becoming clear to me that all of the problems with christian theology really boil down to two (closely related) problems:

          1. If god hates sin, why does he make every human being a sinner from birth?
          And
          2. If god wants every human being to be in heaven, why doesn’t he just create them in heaven?

          Free will doesn’t solve either of these problems, since, if human beings have free will in heaven, god is clearly capable of creating human beings in a state in which they have free will yet freely choose not to sin, and thus has no excuse not to do so in the first place.

        • Hanan

          From a biblical POV, I would simply say that God lays out the card against people ever really “getting” him. I think it’s in Exodus that God tell Moses that no man can see him and live. This is after Moses asks him to reveal his Glory. In Isaiah he says that His ways are not mans ways. So those that worship this God are simply trying to understand Him. It’s quite irrelevant if you have those that are more acetic or those that created the early Hassic sects that worship through dance, song and feelings.

        • John Kesler

          Yes, Exodus 33:20 does say that no one can see God’s face and live, but please go back to verse 11 of the same chapter.
          http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus%2033:20,%20exodus%2033:11&version=NRSV

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Hanan:

          I think it’s in Exodus that God tell Moses that no man can see him and live.

          You don’t believe that, do you? In Gen. 18, Abraham saw God. And in Gen. 3, Adam saw God. No big deal.

          In Isaiah he says that His ways are not mans ways.

          And Abraham haggled with God over shared moral values. And man was created in God’s image.

        • JohnH

          Marcion,
          Your questions with your screen name is fairly interesting given history, are they related?

          “why does he make every human being a sinner from birth?”
          He doesn’t, we are sinless at birth and no one is ever *made* to sin by God, not that God actually *makes* people from nothing either as we are pre-existing. Yes from a Orthodox/Catholic perspective I am as heretical as Marcion, but since I am Mormon then that is okay.

          “2. If god wants every human being to be in heaven, why doesn’t he just create them in heaven?”
          We do come from heaven, where we were previously. God doesn’t create humans from nothing, we are co-eternal with God and can become joint heirs with Christ, and therefore gods. We are the sons of God that shouted for joy at that possibility that we could grow through a process of leaving the presence of God and being born into a fallen world, with Jesus being chosen as our savior so that even though worms would destroy our flesh we would be able to see God with our own eyes and regain His presence by way of the Atonement of Christ.

          Kodie,
          I would that everyone were a prophet and get prepared to see God.

        • Kodie

          What kind of proof do you come here with for this story to be true? It sounds like your favorite thing is to rationalize away any question and not actually confront it directly. You don’t know, but you pretend to know. You like your answers better than our answers, but you don’t have any more information. For example, do you have any memory of being in heaven previously? Do you know why you were sent to earth at the time you were? When you die and you’re in heaven again (as you suppose you will be), will you remember being on earth? It sounds exactly like being born from a nonexistent state to dying to an unknowing state, which is what death is. Who is god? He’s your “not me”, he’s your “I don’t really know”. You haven’t said anything so far that makes this wishful thought into a realistic and convincing entity.

          I do have a major problem with theists being incapable of explaining god in a way that I know they are not talking about fantasy or fairy tales but something they have actual specific knowledge of. If god should talk to you and not to me, he should at least also make you more capable of relaying a story than some crazy at the bus stop.

  • Hanan

    So what does “saw”mean? I don’t know. But you can’t ignore the text that I brought up either. In context, Moses is basically asking to know God’s nature. God responds that “you will never know the entire me.” So ok, Abraham argued with Him. So what? Doesn’t contradict what I said, and how others have sought to understand Him albeit in different ways (to answer Kobie)

    • Hanan

      I meant Kodie.

      Just to reiterate, I am not arguing truth of the bible. I am merely answering Kodies question of how is it that people have had different understandings of God throughout the generations.

      • Kodie

        I don’t know what you’re referring to now so quote what you’re responding to?

        • Hanan

          Your comment on 10:25

          “@Jay – why would the understanding of god change over generations of humans?”

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Hanan:

      But you can’t ignore the text that I brought up either.

      Right. And I don’t propose to.

      Your text says that no man can see God and live, and I gave you two instances where that is clearly not the case. I guess the Bible is unreliable.

      In context, Moses is basically asking to know God’s nature.

      No, Moses is saying that looking at God is like sticking a fork in a wall plug. Sayonara, baby.

      The Bible contradicts itself.

      • Hanan

        But you just said Adam and Abraham saw God. They didn’t die did they? Playing the “bible contradicts itself” card is simply a copout. The book isn’t JUST a patchwork…there is a literary dimension to it as well that flows from beginning to end. So clearly you are misunderstanding what “saw” is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

          Hanan:
          Adam and Abraham didn’t die upon seeing God. I guess Mo was wrong.
          If you interpret the Bible literally, it contradicts itself. If you don’t put that demand on the Bible, obviously you can make it say just about anything you want, like a marionette.

        • Hanan

          >If you interpret the Bible literally, it contradicts itself.

          Then how big was the eagle? You know, the one that carried the Israelites on its back out of Egypt?

      • stevegbrown

        Read Exodus chp 33. The Lord says “no one can see my face and live”. The Lord said he would hide Moses in a clef in a rock face. And when he passed Moses could see his back.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Steve: And when God presented himself to Abraham, he looked just like a regular dude. Same with Adam and Yves. (Oops! I meant Eve!)

          The Bible contradicts itself.

  • Alan

    “What explains this migration to monotheism? A major factor was the Babylonian exile. How could Yahweh, clearly defined as the most powerful of the assembly of gods, have been defeated by the puny Babylonian god Marduk?
    Maybe Yahweh let it happen to teach Israel and Judah a lesson. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Babylon didn’t defeat Yahweh’s people; they were merely a pawn in his grand plan all along.”

    In your effort to ridicule I think you miss some more benign and explanatory historical drivers. The movement towards monotheism within Ancient Judaism is likely more driven by influences from Persian religion in that latter part of the Babylonian exile than from post-hoc rationalization of their defeat (the notion of being punished by your God for disobedience is just as at home in polytheism as is monotheism).

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Alan:

      The movement towards monotheism within Ancient Judaism is likely more driven by influences from Persian religion in that latter part of the Babylonian exile than from post-hoc rationalization of their defeat (the notion of being punished by your God for disobedience is just as at home in polytheism as is monotheism).

      I give the “God allowed it to happen; he wasn’t beaten” argument because I’ve heard it from scholars. But your point is interesting.

  • Paladin13

    Elohim – the plural “Gods” – is the expression of the Triune Godhead used with the singular verb. It’s similar to saying the couple is here or the family is going somewhere.

    • Alan

      Odd explanation since those who wrote the Hebrew Bible don’t believe their is triune godhead – seems more like seeing what you want everywhere you look than reasoned analysis, no?

  • Jay

    Not too sure how much more I can contribute to this discussion than what’s already been said… I did post onto the “Catholic Answers” forum a question regarding the whole polytheism/henotheism stuff and if there have been scholars who have dealt specifically with that particular question. This honestly was the first time I ever heard this particular argument and I haven’t been able to find scholars who have dealt specifically with this topic. If I do get a reply I will post it here.

    This is an article I found on catholic.com. I highly doubt it will give you something you haven’t already heard, but here it is just the same: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/god-in-search-of-man

    Take care

  • Fred Friedman

    Great discussion. Does anyone know of a good book that goes into issues such as the emergence of Judaism from Canaanite religion, Judaism’s assumed roots in henotheism/polytheism, how the cult developed over time, what the Hebrew Bible says or suggests about all of this, what archaeology says, and the like?

    • Jo Kesler

      Fred, read Jon Day’s “Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan,” anything by Mark S. Smith, or for a more elementary introduction, Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God,” especially chapter 4.

      • Fred Friedman

        Thanks, Jo.

        • John Kesler

          Fred Friedman, you are welcome. My name is John Kesler, but for some reason the “hn” didn’t register. You can read chapter four of Stark’s book at this URL:
          http://tinyurl.com/thfog4

  • Denise Plichta

    The very fact of having just left Egypt explains the prohibition quite well. You may be interested in the famed Egyptologist K.A. Kitchen’s book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, as the archaeological evidence pretty well demolishes the Deuteronomic Theory of dating the historical books.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Denise:

      The very fact of having just left Egypt explains the prohibition quite well.

      What prohibition? If you’re talking about Yahweh’s prohibition against worshipping other gods, I argue here that this very prohibition is strong evidence that God doesn’t exist.

      the archaeological evidence pretty well demolishes the Deuteronomic Theory of dating the historical books.

      Tell me more. What are these two competing claims?

    • Hrafn

      That an evangelical Christian, such as Kitchen, defends the historical accuracy of the Old Testament is hardly surprising, but in no way is it evidence that this is the consensus academic viewpoint.

  • Jay

    Sorry, still haven’t gotten a response from the apologists at Catholic Answers. I did look through their forums though and the majority of commentors who talked about the subject of henotheism within Judaism seemed to be very concurrent saying that it was very much present. Someone posted this article from the University of Idaho:

    http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/henotheism.htm

    I think it might just add concurring opinions to some of the things you’ve already said… Don’t really think I can add much else besides that… Take care :)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jay: Thanks for the link!

  • natsera

    Jewish by culture, if not by belief, and I LOVE it when someone understands the Tanach for what it really is: writings of an ancient culture and a record of their beliefs, their cosmology and mythology, poetry, allegory, and a written-down version of their oral history, which slides into real history as proven by archeological findings. I admit that I’m pretty offended when Romans and Greeks and Norse and Inuit etc. get to have their own mythology, which no one pretends to believe, but they won’t let me have MY cultural mythological heritage.

    The Christian writings, on the other hand, are pure propaganda, and while they do have some historical value, that’s not the reason they were written. And most Christians truly don’t understand why I value my own cultural heritage but place no credence whatsoever in their “Bible”.

  • stevegbrown

    I don’t understand the point of this article. As a Catholic, I have no problem with many gods in the OT. The stories told in the scriptures (a collection of books) is one of the Supreme God revealing himself little by little.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Steve:

      The point of the article was that, as a Catholic, you should be horrified that the Bible is quite comfortable with polytheism.

      (But I guess you outsmarted me!)

      • stevegbrown

        The writer of this article clearly is not a scripture scholar nor well-versed in the theology of revelation. Why should I be horrified that the Bible mentions the beliefs of the people that He revealed himself to? The commandment to “worship only the Lord God Yaweh” is during the exodus and the reception of the 10 commandments. During the time of Abraham Isaac stole the household gods of Lot his father in law. All this is simply God tolerating the hebrews confused beliefs until He reveals himself. Remember the story in the OT is one of God revealing himself little by little. It is also a story of God constantly calling his people back to Him. There is plenty of hyperbole in the psalms, where God is above all the other gods. It doesn’t mean than we believe that God admits the existance of other gods but that he is swaying, woing Israel to first trust in him alone, and then later that is the one and only. It wasn’t until the time of the Prophets that Israel is cleary monotheistic. Read Hosea God likens unfaithful Israel to a prostitute yet He still loves her.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Why should I be horrified that the Bible mentions the beliefs of the people that He revealed himself to?

          Because they document the evolution of Judaism. If it really were the teachings of the omniscient creator of the universe, it’d be unchanging from Day 1.

          All this is simply God tolerating the hebrews confused beliefs until He reveals himself.

          Why the delay? Why not just tell us the truth right away? We can handle it now; why not make it clear then?

          God didn’t give out warnings for centuries after the 10 Commandments; they went into effect right away.

          Makes it sound like rationalization for beliefs invented by humans.

          Remember the story in the OT is one of God revealing himself little by little.

          Which is just the rationalization that you’d make for an invented religion, not at all what the actual dictates from God would look like.

          I prefer the natural explanation.

        • RichardSRussell

          “Why the delay? Why not just tell us the truth right away? We can handle it now; why not make it clear then?”

          Kinda makes you wonder what God’s not telling us NOW, doesn’t it? Cure for cancer, maybe? But not until we’re “ready for it”, of course.

  • http://vedatyami.blogspot.com/ haga

    Is Christianity a polytheistic or monotheistic religion, still cant understand.. ? someone help pls..

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      haga: I have a post on the Trinity coming out Monday. That will touch on this issue.
      Judaism evolved over time, and so did Christianity. I’d say that Christianity is obviously polytheistic, with the Trinity a clumsy patch to argue that it’s not (Muslims lampoon this). But apparently monotheism was too important to discard.

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